By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterOctober 27, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Taking to the road in any vehicle can be dangerous, but the danger level increases for motorists on two wheels.
The 1st Battalion, 11th Aviation Regiment and Fort Rucker sought to educate motorcycle riders on post about proper safety when it comes to taking to the streets through the motorcycle mentorship ride Oct. 21.
"We here in 1-11th encourage our riders to meet and ride frequently, as this interaction fosters a safe riding culture, and provides an opportunity for our mentors and riders to discuss issues, trends and dangerous riding locations," said Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin Pinckney, 1st Bn., 11th Avn. Regt. command sergeant major.
During the mentorship ride, the riders rode to Panama City Beach, Florida, but not before a safety brief on proper techniques while riding, especially in a group, which brings a completely different dynamic to riding compared to riding solo, said Joel Vanhoolandt, Department of the Army civilian and ride coordinator.
When riding alone, riders must be aware of their environment constantly, and although most riders may be safe and aware, it can be difficult for other motorists to see those on motorcycles, said Vanhoolandt. Riding in a group can be much safer because it increases visibility of the riders on the road, but with that, extra precautions must be taken and a plan has to be made for the ride.
"This is a controlled environment, so we monitor the riders, pair them off with their mentors and we identify their shortcomings and their strengths," he said. "We will ride staggered in two-second intervals, and there is a lead rider who will point out any hazards in the road, and will use different hand signals and signs to alert the following riders.
"This is a good way to watch how other riders ride and be able to point out any bad habits," he continued. "And while riding as a group, you have to keep your awareness because when the group stops you have to be able to keep up with all of that."
Vanhoolandt said that what many motorists don't seem to realize is that motorcyclists are riding in groups for their own safety, not to simply take over the roads. For that reason, people in vehicles should respect a group of riders and take extra caution.
"We try not to get the group split up by letting cars in between the formation because that can be dangerous, and when we change lanes we do so as a group," he said. "We don't act stupid and we respect the traffic."
Sgt. 1st Class Edgardo Hernandez, A Company, 1st Bn., 11th Avn. Regt., and his wife, Emily, have been riding for about 10 years. They decided to take part in the mentorship ride to not only help educate younger riders on the importance of motorcycle safety, but to simply enjoy the ride itself with other enthusiasts.
"Riding is just so relaxing," said Emily. "You just get to look at everything and it's totally different, and you meet the most amazing people."
"You're definitely more observant when you're reading on a motorcycle -- you get to see the countryside a lot more and it's almost like being free," added Edgardo. "And when you ride in a group, there's just that sense of camaraderie that you don't get riding alone."
Despite the freedom that riding gives them, they know all too well the importance of safety when it comes to riding.
"Riding in a group is different dynamic because you have to maintain your spacing and speed is a big factor," said Edgardo. "You need to learn the hand signals to be able to communicate with the other riders, and by using those signals you can let the other riders know if there might be a hazard in the road or (other dangers).
"Also, when riding in a group, riders not only have to pay attention to the others on the road, but to each other, as well," he continued. "You have to have a plan and make sure everyone knows the plan -- you can't just veer off and go your own way because you're part of the group."
Vanhoolandt added that although the ride is meant for training, the goal is to also have fun, but if the ride can help newer riders get some good safety habits, then their job is done.
"This is just a good training event and it's great for esprit de corps," he said. "Ultimately, though, we hope to save some lives."